Get Project Updates the Right Way

I once worked at a company where the staff spent two mornings a week in a meeting to ‘update’ the manager/owner.

We went around in a circle of 7 or 8 and simply told the manager where we were on our projects. There was very little discussion about any problems we might be having or resources we needed.

We just provided updates on our projects.

But of course

I know many of you are thinking that sounds totally sane. Of course you need meetings to update your manager. If you’ve got a bunch of team members around, then of course each developer/designer needs to provide an update on their projects.

If that’s true, then why on Earth would you use a project management system, which by definition is all about keeping the right people up to date on a project?

Running the numbers

Let’s start by running some numbers. If we have 8 developers/designers in an hour-long meeting, that’s 8 hours of time. If we’re doing it twice a week that’s 16 hours of time. That’s 16 hours a week where at least 7 of those people are mostly sitting back, doing nothing but listening to a report that likely has no bearing on their work.

Would it take the manager 2 full days to update themselves on a project? Nope. Could they do it in the same 2 hours? Maybe.

When a manager sets up meetings like that, they’re making the choice that the 2 hours of the manager’s time is worth more than 16 hours of the developers’/designers’ time.

Is that really the truth?


Secondly, you’ve got to remember the Makers and Managers Schedule. Managers are used to addressing multiple topics or issues within any given hour of the day. Makers (designers/developers), on the other hand, need long swaths of time to really dig into problems.

They need lots of time to fit a problem into their head before they really get going full speed on an issue. A meeting interrupts this flow, which means when the maker returns to work, they have to start over again with the whole process of really digging into a problem.

Let’s assume it takes 30 minutes for any designer/developer to really get going on their problem. When the entire team of these makers sits in a meeting, 8 people have lost 4 hours of full productivity. Let’s call it 2 hours of no productivity. So we’re not actually at 16 hours, we’re at 18 hours of lost productivity in a week.

That also assumes the designer/developer really felt like they could dig in properly on their problem in the first place, even knowing there’s a meeting looming on the horizon. Maybe they didn’t feel like they could with the monkey of a meeting hanging on their back, so they never dug into the hard problem prior to the meeting.

They just shuffled things around, which was ‘work’ but not really the work that needed to get done. In that case, we could be up to 20 hours of lost time in a week.

That’s 50% of a whole employee being less than productive in a week, based on a 40-hour week. Keep in mind that most people only really get 5 hours of ‘productive’ time in a day, if they’re lucky. And that’s without staff meetings.

So really, the effect of these weekly update meetings is that a whole employee’s worth of time is being wasted each week.

All because a manager felt their 2 hours of time was more valuable than the time of the rest of the team.

Now I’m not saying that all meetings are bad. Sometimes you do need a status meeting. Remote teams need to see faces sometimes to avoid isolation and help team building. And by the way, this should happen more than just once a year during a team trip.

But if you’re a manager, you need to ask yourself:  Is that 2 hours of management time worth sacrificing 20 hours of productive work time? Would your business be better served by the manager spending 4 hours getting up to speed on projects rather than killing 20 hours of team time in a week?

Figure out that better process to get managers the information they need. Don’t kill 20 hours of time.

photo credit: nukamari cc

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